Whistleblowers in organisations: prophets at work?
Avakian, Stephanos and Roberts, Joanne (2012) Whistleblowers in organisations: prophets at work? Journal of Business Ethics . ISSN 0167-4544 (Print); 1573-0697 (Online) (In Press)
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This article argues that the study of biblical prophets offers a profound contribution to understanding the experience, role and attributes of whistleblowers. Little is known in the literature about the moral triggers that lead individuals to blow the whistle in organisations or why whistleblowers may show persistence against the harshness experienced as a result of their actions. This article argues that our understanding of the whistleblower’s work is highly informed by appreciating how moral values and norms are exercised by prophets in seeking to become agents for change. This article identifies three core implications that have practical and theoretical relevance. The first concerns how the whistleblowing activity challenges the established order of an organisation as this is comprised of institutional structures, policies and procedures. Institutions display an unusual fragility against the seemingly powerless individual who helps reveal the wrongdoing. By disclosing ‘hidden’ knowledge concerning illegitimate intentions and actions, the seemingly powerless individual creates tension that has implications for the stability and order of the organisation. The second implication concerns the degree of social concern and the individual’s interpretation of morality. Whistleblowers, like prophets, display concern for moral values that have implications for the welfare of others, and which they seek to promote through their whistleblowing act. The third implication concerns the importance of agency. By taking a moral stance, the whistleblower assumes an important agentic role facilitating change through his/her intervention. Although such change is sudden and unpredictable it brings about new conditions for the organisation and its members.
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